Aging Alone Does Not Need To Be Lonely: Estate Planning Tips For “Solo-Seniors”
While I am not a fan of labels, those considered “Solo-Seniors” or “Solo-Agers” are comprised of senior citizens who are not members of a traditional nuclear family. They might not have a significant other, children, siblings or close family or friends whom they can rely on in the event of incapacity or to handle their affairs upon their demise. They often live alone and may have close friends whom they socialize with, but do not want to burden those individuals with the task of caring for them and their affairs if they become incapacitated or pass away. The lack of a clear choice as to who to appoint as their “emergency team” can cause much procrastination when it comes to estate planning and the preparation of advance directives. This procrastination can have detrimental effects, including an increased risk of elder abuse (financial or physical), the senior being taken advantage of by those they hire to take care of them, or unfortunately the need of a Guardian being appointed. These outcomes can be avoided by some proactive (and creative!) pre-planning.
Estate planning is not just about who inherits your money. A more important part of estate planning, especially for the single individual, is what happens while you are still alive, but unable to care for yourself. Having both a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy allows the single individual to name someone to handle their financial and health care decisions, during their lifetime if they are unable to do so themselves. Guardianship, which is the legal option available for appointment of someone to make financial or personal decisions, should be a last resort, not something to be relied upon. So, the question becomes, who do you name for these roles? The answer really depends on your support network. In my experience, most single individuals will name siblings, nieces and nephews, life partners or alternatively very close friends as their Agents under their Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney. I urge my clients to discuss these documents with the individuals they trust and confirm that said individuals are willing to act on their behalf. More often than not, the individual (and any successor) is more than happy to step into the role and assist. In situations where a trusted family and/or friend is not possible, there are other options. For example, daily money managers or professional fiduciaries can be hired to act as Agent under a Power of Attorney, and sometimes your attorney, personal financial advisors, accountant and/or others in your professional network may be willing to act as agent. In these situations, a fee structure or salary for the agent can be agreed to in order for the single individual to not feel that they are being afforded any favors.
Not only is the appointment of these individuals important, but providing them with a roadmap as to what your wishes are is equally helpful. I recommend creating a folder or binder with information regarding your assets, passwords, contact information (such as your attorney, financial advisor, accountant, doctors, etc) and information as to how you would want your money spent during your life. Your agent for health care decision making should also be made aware of your medical conditions, medications, providers and insurance information. While these conversations (or putting this information on paper) may feel awkward, it can be tremendously helpful in ensuring your wishes are followed, especially for the solo-senior.
Once the single individual’s advanced directives are executed, a secondary conversation should be had with an experienced estate and/or elder law attorney as to additional estate planning that should be considered, including the preparation of a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Trusts to avoid the probate process, and possibly even a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust in order to create a long term care plan, especially if the single individual is concerned that their life savings may be dissipated by either the cost of their long term care at home or in a nursing home.
In closure, while addressing these issues may be uncomfortable or stressful, putting a plan in place for the future can bring tremendous peace of mind, not only for the single individual, but for those who care about that person’s health and well-being as well.
* Lauren C. Enea, Esq. is a Senior Associate at Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP. She concentrates her practice on Wills, Trusts and Estates, Medicaid Planning, Special Needs Planning and Probate/Estate Administration. She believes that it is never too early or too late to start planning for your future and she enjoys working with individuals to ensure that their plan best suits their needs. Ms. Enea received a B.S. in Business Management from Quinnipiac University graduating Magna Cum Laude and a J.D. from the Pace University School of Law graduating Summa Cum Laude. She is admitted to practice law in New York and Florida. She can be contacted at 914-269-2367 or www.esslawfirm.com.